My father was ahead of his time.

Years before Americans were asked to, Jim Hayden ensured that our family conserved energy by keeping the thermostat low, turning off lights and taking “military” showers to reduce water use. My father also observed the speed limit. Our family vacations took us to national parks. I grew up with a keen appreciation for the outdoors. I remember the sense of horror and helplessness when I saw the images of distressed wildlife in the aftermath of the Santa Barbara oil spill, which devastated the beaches that were an important part of our family’s life.

In part as a result of that oil spill, Earth Day came into being. And 48 years after that inaugural Earth Day event, many of us will find ourselves at a gathering dedicated to increasing awareness of the environment that supports and sustains us all.


History of Earth Day

Earth Day was launched in 1970. Many factors contributed to the call for a national day focusing on environmental stewardship, including the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring – serialized in the New Yorker – and the catastrophic oil spill that occurred off the coast of Santa Barbara, California in 1969. The Santa Barbara oil spill galvanized U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin) to call for a national day of locally inspired and organized “teach-ins” on the environment – a national “Earth Day.” The Earth Day model was inspired by campus activism. It wasn’t top-down, but rather a grassroots effort that encouraged communities to develop educational and service events around issues and topics important to them.

President Richard Nixon and staff at site of 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill.











Earth Day struck a chord; some estimates suggest that 1 in 10 Americans participated in the first events. Earth Day is widely credited with “sparking” the modern environmental movement. Landmark environmental legislation swiftly followed (including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act). The Environmental Protection agency was founded that same year. Twenty years after its launch, Earth Day became a global movement.

You can learn more from the Earth Day Network by linking to this website.

Take part. Learn. Act.


Research: Seeking Street Trees that Can Cope With Climate Change

Trees play a vital role in shading and beautifying California’s urban areas. UC ANR researcher Janet Hartin says that:

“Urban areas create heat islands, with dark asphalt surfaces reradiating heat. Cities can be 10 to 20 degrees warmer than the surrounding environment.”

Trees provide other benefits, including improving soil health and stability, providing habitat for wildlife and serving as a source of beauty.

Credit: UC Agriculture and Natural Resources

But climate change (resulting in reduced rainfall and higher temperatures) can create chronic stress in some street tree species.

To find a solution, UC Cooperative Extension scientists are partnering with the U.S. Forest Service “in an unprecedented 20-year research study to expand the palette of drought-adapted, climate-ready trees for several of the state’s climate zones.”

“The idea is to look at available but under-planted, drought-tolerant, structurally sound, pest resistant trees for Southern California that do well in even warmer climates,” said Janet Hartin, UCCE horticulture advisor in San Bernardino County.

Learn more – including what tree species might be planted in your area – in this terrific read by Jeannette Warnert.


Food Waste

Nearly 40% of the food produced in the U.S. is wasted and much of that waste ends up in landfills (definitely not good for our environment or the economy). The National Resources Defense Council estimates that the average family of four throws out nearly 1,000 pounds of food each year, wasting roughly $1,500. Consumers as a group waste more food than farms, grocery stores or restaurants. For tips on ways you can reduce #FoodWaste, click hereRelated Reading: What a World War I Poster Can Teach Us About #FoodWaste.

Research: Voices From The Field

A group of UC Davis and UC ANR researchers has received funding to document the ways in which California growers maximize crop utility. Dr. David Campbell (a UC ANR specialist based at UC Davis), Dr. Clare Gupta (also an ANR specialist at UC Davis), Dr. Annie Gillman and Dr. Edward Spang are interviewing growers to understand what happens to crops that do not make it to primary markets. The initial focus of the research is on three crops: leafy greens, tomatoes (fresh and processed) and peaches (fresh and processed).

Annie Gillman – a post-doctoral researcher in the UC Davis Department of Human Ecology – is playing a key role in the research effort. She shared a write-up of the project with me:

“The premise of this project is that growers are the experts when it comes to maximizing the utility of what they plant, and that members of research, policy, or non-profit communities interested in this topic should first look to farmers. While the concept of “food waste” has gained traction within numerous policy circles, the voices of farmers are often left out of the conversation. Though most food loss occurs at the distributor and consumer levels, growers’ firsthand knowledge in reducing crop loss (i.e. maximizing yield) makes them critical players in evaluating viable solutions. The goal of our project is to ensure that farmer perspectives on the drivers of food loss and on opportunities for loss reduction are incorporated into any proposed policies or plans.”

Credit: Image courtesy of Annie Gillman

Annie also told me that:

“Given expanding interest in reducing food waste and loss, including potential loss on farms, we want to ensure that growers’ voices are at the center of the discussion.

In the Voices from the Field project, we interviewed more than thirty growers throughout California to gather their perspectives. 

Farmers are heavily invested in minimizing on-farm food loss– because they take pride in growing food to feed people, and because their livelihoods depend on it.”

The team is still receiving feedback, so findings are preliminary. Stay tuned!

Editor’s Note: The featured photo is the first image taken of the entire Earth. It was photographed by the crew of Apollo 8 in 1968, two years before the first Earth Day.